JFCY’s 40th Anniversary Celebration on Nov 15, 2018

Dear JFCY members and supporters,

This fall, we celebrate 40 years of protecting and advancing the legal rights and dignity of children and youth in Canada. It’s a milestone we are proud of, and would love to celebrate with you on November 15 at The Pilot on 22 Cumberland Street.

Come with friends and rock out to the hits of the 80s, featuring The Thin Skulls.

Purchase tickets online here.

Doors open at 6pm; show starts at 7pm.

Tickets are $40; students pay $20.

If you are unable to attend the event, but would still like to make a donation to JFCY, please click here

We look forward to celebrating JFCY’s 40th anniversary with you!

Cannabis Laws in Ontario – Starting Oct 17, 2018

NEW: visit our Legal Wiki page on Cannabis for more information.

PNG version of JFCY infographic below and click here for PDF version

Note: original infographic stated that use in public space will not be allowed; the Ontario government has changed their position and has restricted public use in ways similar to alcohol and tabacco restrictions. Please ensure you have the correct version of the JFCY infographic.

 

Possession of small amounts of cannabis by adults for recreational use will be permitted in Canada. These laws are different from the medical use of cannabis. These changes do not mean full legalization. Below are some of the laws – visit the government websites listed below for full details.

The federal laws apply across Canada, however, the Provinces and Territories will each have their own laws that may restrict further. It is important to look at the laws within your Province.

If you are travelling within Canada, you will be subject to the laws of the Province you are in.

If you are travelling outside of Canada, it is illegal to take (recreational and medical) cannabis across international borders.

Federal – Canada

Below 18 (Provinces can increase this age, in Ontario it is 19 – see Provincial section below):

  • Can be charged for possession and/or distribution of over 5 grams
  • Not allowed to have any plants
  • Sentencing will be under the Youth Criminal Justice Act

Adults 18 and over:

  • Can be charged for possession over 30 grams
  • No distribution or sharing with someone under 18 (or the age set by the Province that you are in)
  • Can have up to 4 non-illicit plants per household (not per adult)

Provincial – Ontario

Ontario will treat cannabis similar to the way alcohol is treated; provincial offence tickets, similar to Highway Traffic Act.

Below 19

  • Not allowed to possess, home grow, share or use
  • No one can distribute or share with someone under 19 years of age
  • Identification will be required to buy if you look under 25

Education Act (elementary – secondary school)

  • This has not changed: a suspension may be considered for a student under the influence or in possession of cannabis; and a suspension will be required and an expulsion may be considered if a student gives cannabis to someone under 19.

Adults 19 and over

  • Posession of a maximum of 30 grams
  • No use in workplaces or while operating motor vehicle
  • Sold online through the Ontario government starting Oct 17, 2018; and available through private-run stores in April 2019
  • No impaired driving
  • Zero tolerance for drivers under 21 or those with G1/G2 licence

Violations:

  • Anyone over 12 can be given a Provincial Offences TICKET
  • AND anyone 12 – 17 can be charged under the Youth Criminal Justice Act for possession over 5 grams or sharing with anyone under 18

Age discrimination:

  • JFCY is concerned that a young person 12 – 17 years of age may be subjected to criminal sanctions and records, whereas an adult can not be for the same offence(s)
  • Some of these concerns have been also raised in a Robson Crim Blawg post

For more details:

Sex Education in Ontario: A Human Rights Challenge?

JFCY and HALCO will be hosting an information session on August 29 at 5:30pm at The 519, where people (especially youth!) can learn more about opportunities to participate in a legal challenge. Please contact Athena Caldarola at 416.920.1633 x8221 or caldara@lao.on.ca for more info and/or to register.
Download this blog post in PDF format: Sex Ed and Human Rights Info Sheet

What just happened?

The Ford government recently announced they are going to repeal the current 2015 Sex Ed Curriculum and replace it with the 1998 Sex Ed Curriculum. This change means that sexual orientation, gender identity, same-sex marriage, consent, invisible differences (such as disability) and safe social media use will not be taught to students in Ontario under the curriculum. In addition to putting students at risk of harm, this decision by the Ford government is discriminatory.

What is discrimination?

Discrimination is when someone is treated unfairly or unequally because of who they are or because of their circumstances. For example, it is discrimination for someone to be treated unfairly or unequally because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, race, family status or disability.

What is the Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code)?

The Code is the law that sets out when we are protected from discrimination in Ontario.

The Code protects us from discrimination in different social areas, including the provision of goods/services/facilities, including the provision of public education (i.e. going to school).  It also protects us from discrimination on various grounds, including our sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, race, family status or disability.

Is the Ontario Government’s decision discriminatory?

The Code protects the right of Ontario students, regardless of who they are and how they identify, to go to school and learn in an environment that is free from discrimination.  By scrapping the 2015 Sex Ed Curriculum and implementing the 1998 Sex Ed Curriculum, the Ontario government is discriminating against LGBTQ students and families, students with disabilities and/or family members with disabilities, as well as other groups.

Consider the following examples:

Jimmy is 13 and identifies as gay. Under the 1998 Sex Ed Curriculum, he and his peers will no longer learn about diversity in sexual orientation and sexual health as it relates to gay relationships. As well, they will no longer learn how to support the development of positive self-concept for peers questioning their sexual orientation. However, his peers will continue to learn about heterosexual relationships and sexual health. Jimmy is being treated differently because of his sexual orientation.

Eugenia and Lynne are a married Lesbian couple with 8 year-old twin boys. Under the 1998 Sex Ed Curriculum, their kids will no longer learn about same-sex marriage and same sex families: only heterosexual family relationships will be taught. Eugenia and Lynne’s family will be treated differently because of the parents’ sexual orientation.

Casey is a 12 year-old trans kid. She has experienced transphobic bullying at school. Under the 2015 Sex Ed Curriculum, Casey and her peers would be taught about diversity in gender identity from grade 8 onwards, including how to support the development of positive self-concept for peers questioning their gender identity. Now, she hears in the news that this information is no longer going to be taught. As a result, Casey feels isolated and ashamed. She fears that the transphobia at school will only get worse. She is being treated differently because of her gender identity.

Corey is a 11 year-old kid who was born with HIV. He knows that people are afraid of HIV, so he keeps it a secret. Because many people do not know how HIV is transmitted or what it is like to live with the virus, they shame and blame people living with HIV and don’t want to be around them.  His classmates might say mean things about him or his mom online if they found out and then everyone will find out. Under the 2015 Sex Ed Curriculum, Corey and his peers would be taught about how HIV treatment can reduce the amount of virus in your blood, which reduces the risk of HIV transmission and keeps you healthy.  They would also learn about other ways to reduce the risk of HIV transmission in sex activities and the importance of reducing HIV stigma (not shaming, blaming or gossiping about people living with HIV). Now, students will not be taught about HIV. Corey is discouraged and feels that he will never be accepted. He feels afraid and feels that he has no choice but to continue hiding his health condition, and dismiss any hope of dating.

What is the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO)?

The HRTO is an administrative tribunal that resolves claims about discrimination under Ontario’s Human Rights Code. To start a claim for discrimination, a human rights application form must be filed with the HRTO.

Who can make a Human Rights Application?

Anyone who believes that they have experienced discrimination in circumstances covered in the Code. The person making a claim is called the Applicant.

What happens after you make a human rights application?

After you file an Application to the HRTO, they will send it to the Respondent(s) who will then have the opportunity to submit a written response. After that, the Applicant(s) and Respondent(s) will usually be invited to participate in mediation that is provided by the HRTO. Sometimes, Applicants and Respondents can explore ways to fixing the problems raised by agreement, without a hearing. If the dispute is not resolved with mediation then the HRTO will eventually schedule a hearing, which is similar to a court trial but not quite as formal.

What can the HRTO order?

After a hearing, if the HRTO concludes that there was discrimination, they can make an order, including an order that the problem with the curriculum be fixed so that it is not discriminatory. In this case, one way to fix the problem is to keep the 2015 curriculum in place.

What now?

Justice for Children and Youth (JFCY) and the HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario (HALCO) are organizing to represent Applicants who wish to come forward and file Applications to the HRTO. JFCY and HALCO are free legal clinics that represent clients at no charge.

If you believe that the roll-back of the 2015 Sex Ed Curriculum violates your human rights please contact Andrea Luey or Claire Millgate at Justice for Children and Youth (416.920.1633) for legal advice.

We will be hosting an information session on August 29 at 5:30pm at The 519, where people (especially youth!) can learn more about opportunities to participate in a legal challenge. Please contact Athena Caldarola at 416.920.1633 x8221 or caldara@lao.on.ca for more info and/or to register.
Download this blog post in PDF format: Sex Ed and Human Rights Info Sheet

 

Student Summer Employment

David Macauley, Harvard Law School, JFCY summer student

As summer approaches and many students prepare for summer employment, it is a good time to share a few reminders about student employment rights in Ontario and recent changes to the minimum wage.

Minimum wage: The minimum wage was increased this year, but the minimum wage for students under 18 years of age remains slightly lower than the general minimum wage.

As of January 1, 2018, the minimum wages are:

  • $13.15 for students under 18 years of age
  • $14.00 for most others

Next year, on January 1, 2019, the minimum wages will rise to:

  • $14.10 for students under 18 years of age
  • $15.00 for most others

The student minimum wage only applies if:

  • you are under 18, AND
  • you are working 28 hours or less per week, OR working during a school holiday (summer break, winter break, March break, etc.).

If a student under 18 works more than 28 hours in a week while school is in session, they are entitled to the higher, general minimum wage for that week.

If an employer provides room and board, it can be considered as wages for the purpose of calculating what an employee is entitled to under the minimum wage. However, room and board can only be considered where the employee has actually received the meals or occupied the room, and up to a limited amount:

  • For room, $31.70 a week if the room is private, and $15.85 if it is not private.
  • For board, $2.55 a meal, up to $53.55 a week.
  • For both room and board, $85.25 a week if the room is private, and $69.40 if it is not private.

For example, a student working in the summer is paid $13.15 an hour, the student minimum wage. The student works 40 hours per week, and is entitled to $526 ($13.15 x 40) in wages per week. The student receives room and board, and is therefore considered to have already been paid $85.25 in wages for the week. As a result, the employee is only entitled to $440.75 in regular wages. The pay calculation for the week would be:

$440.75 (regular wages) + $85.25 (room and board) = $526 (which amounts to $13.15 x 40 hours)

There is no minimum wage, however, for students employed:

  • in a recreational program operated by a charitable organization,
  • to instruct or supervise children, OR
  • at a camp for children.

Payment: Employers must establish a regular pay period, and a regular pay day for all of the wages earned during the pay period. Employers may choose different schedules, but they must pay their employees on a regular schedule.

If your employment ends (e.g., you quit or are fired), you are still entitled to the wages you earned. Your employer must pay you within seven days after your employment ends or on your next pay day – whichever is earlier.

Deductions: An employer can only deduct from your wages in one of three cases:

  • where the law requires it (such as income tax, Canadian Pension Plan, or Employment Insurance),
  • where a court orders it (if an employee owes money to either their employer or someone else, and a judge orders that the employer may make deductions), OR
  • where you, the employee, provide written authorization for the employer to deduct from your wages.

In practice, this means that an employer could make wage deductions to cover the cost of something like a uniform. However, they must receive written authorization from the employee first.

But even with written authorization, an employer cannot deduct wages:

  • due to faulty work (such as a mistake in a credit card transaction, or damage to an employer’s tools or vehicles while working), OR
  • to cover lost or stolen property, UNLESS the employee was the only one with access to the cash or property (in which case, the employer would still need written authorization).

Under these rules, an employer could not deduct from an employee’s wages to cover the cost of a “dine and dash” or a customer who shoplifts something, because the employee wouldn’t have been the only one with access to the stolen property.

In addition, employers cannot deduct from tips for any losses or theft. The only instance in which an employer can take an employee’s tips is if the employer is collecting the tips to redistribute them in a tip pool. The employer can only share in the tip pool if they own part of the business and spend most of their time doing the same work as the employees who share in the tip pool, or other employees in the industry that would normally receive or share tips.

Breaks: Employees cannot work for five hours continuously without a 30 minute break, which may be broken into two shorter breaks. These breaks are unpaid, unless the contract between you and your employer states that you will be paid for the breaks.

Time off between shifts: Your employer must give you at least 8 hours of time off between shifts, unless:

  • the total length of the successive shifts doesn’t exceed 13 hours, OR
  • you and your employer agree that you will receive less than 8 hours of time off between shifts.

Free time: Your employer must give you at least a 24 hour block of free time off every work week, or a 48 hour block once every two consecutive work weeks.

Daily rest period: Employers must give you 11 consecutive hours free from work every day, unless you are on call.

Personal emergency leave: You are entitled to a leave of absence if you or a close relative become ill, experience a medical emergency, or some other urgent matter comes up. You must inform your employer that you intend to take personal leave, and they may require you to provide evidence of the emergency, but cannot require a note from a health practitioner like a doctor or a nurse.

You are entitled to 2 paid and 8 unpaid days of personal emergency leave in a calendar year. If you have been with the employer for at least a week, the paid days must be taken first.

Termination notice and termination pay: If you have been working for the same employer for three months or more, they must give you at least one week’s notice if they plan to terminate your employment. The longer you’ve worked for the employer, the more notice they are required to give.

Employers may choose to give you termination pay rather than notice, in which case they must pay you for the amount you would have made during the time of required notice. For example, if you had been working for four months for the same employer, the employer could either give you one week’s notice, during which time you would continue to work your regular hours, or give you one week’s pay.

Public holidays: Ontario has nine public holidays (New Year’s Day, Family Day, Good Friday, Victoria Day, Canada Day, Labour Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day). Most employees are entitled to take these days off of work and be paid public holiday pay.

As of July 1, 2018, public holiday pay is determined by the total wages you earned in the four weeks before the work week of the public holiday, divided by 20.

However, you can agree to work on the holiday and be paid either:

  • Public holiday pay PLUS premium pay (which must be at least 1.5 times regular pay) for all hours worked on the public holiday, OR
  • Regular pay for all hours worked on the holiday, AND be entitled to another day off (“substitute” holiday) for which you will be paid public holiday pay.

You have the right to refuse to work on a public holiday or a Sunday. If you agree to work on the holiday or Sunday and then change your mind, you must notify your employer at least 48 hours before you were scheduled to start work on that day.

Compensation for public holidays doesn’t apply to students employed:

  • in a recreational program operated by a charitable organization,
  • to instruct or supervise children, OR
  • at a camp for children.

Overtime pay: Overtime pay begins when you work more than 44 hours in a work week. For every hour of work over 44, you are entitled to 1.5 times your regular pay rate (often called time and a half). Overtime pay is calculated on a weekly basis, so it doesn’t automatically apply when you work a particularly long shift. But if you work several long shifts in a week, it may put your hours above 44, at which point overtime pay would apply.

Overtime pay doesn’t apply to students employed:

  • in a recreational program operated by a charitable organization,
  • to instruct or supervise children, OR
  • at a camp for children.

Discrimination: The Ontario Human Rights Code prohibits discrimination based on a protected ground in a protected area. Employment is one of the protected areas. The protected grounds include:

  • Age (except for those under 18 – see more here)
  • Ancestry, colour, race
  • Citizenship
  • Ethnic origin
  • Place of origin
  • Creed
  • Disability
  • Family status
  • Marital status (including single status)
  • Gender identity
  • Gender expression
  • Record of offences
  • Sex (including pregnancy and breastfeeding)
  • Sexual orientation

The right to equal treatment in employment includes job advertisements, job applications, job recruitment, interviews, training, and other elements of employment. It also includes the right to be free from harassment (a pattern of unwelcome comments or actions), and sexual harassment (comments or actions based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression). Discrimination and harassment can take many forms.

If your rights have been infringed, you have one year from the time of the incident (or most recent incident in a series) to file an application with the Human Rights Tribunal. More information can be found with the Human Rights Legal Support Centre.

The Ontario Ministry of Labour has produced these information materials:

The Ontario Human Rights Commissions has produced the following guide:

Additional information from Community Legal Education Ontario can be found here:

 

Starting Jan 1, 2018: 16 & 17 year olds can enter into a “Voluntary Youth Service Agreement” with CAS for protection services

A young person who is under the age of 18 can contact a Children’s Aid Society (CAS) if they are at risk of harm or facing harm. Harm can be physical, emotional, sexual harm, or neglect. It is new that 16 and 17 year olds who are not already getting help from CAS can now ask for help and enter into a Voluntary Youth Service Agreement (VYSA) with CAS.

Voluntary Youth Service Agreement (VYSA):

  • Where a 16 or 17 year old is found to be in need of protection, the young person can enter into an VYSA with CAS.
  • The agreement is between the young person and the CAS.
  • The young person has the right to consent or refuse to enter into an agreement with CAS for services.
  • The young person can end a VYSA.
  • Where applicable, Bands and native communities must be notified that the young person is preparing to enter into a VYSA.
  • The young person has a right to legal advice and legal representation before signing a VYSA.
  • A Voluntary Youth Services (VYS) Plan must be created within 30 days of signing a VYSA.
  • The VYS Plan will including finding a place to live and provide other supports, eg. financial and social supports, planning for transitioning into adulthood and assisting with developing and/or maintaining cultural connections.

Reporting and Investigations:

  • Any person, including a young person, may make a report to CAS where they have a reasonable suspicion that a 16 or 17 year old is, or may be, in need of protection. It is not mandatory to report to CAS.
  • It is mandatory to report when the young person is under 16 years of age.
  • Reasons for protection include: physical, sexual and emotional abuse, neglect, and risk of harm.
  • After a report is received, the CAS will usually start an investigation by talking to people who know the young person to determine if they are at risk.
  • If the young person does not consent to an investigation, the CAS will think about how much risk there is to the young person and consider alternative ways to make a decision about the young person’s safety concerns.

Turning 18

  • VYSA’s expire on the young person’s 18th birthday.
  • Young person becomes eligible for the Continued Care and Support for Youth Program (CCSY).
  • CCSY provides financial and non-financial supports for people 18 to 21 years of age who were in the care of CAS.
  • This may include funding to caregivers, a Youth-In-Transition Worker, Extended benefits (eg. health, dental), and post-secondary supports (eg. tuition grants) and the Living and Learning Grant which provides financial support during the school year if enrolled in a post-secondary education or training program.

Leaving Home at 16 & 17 years of age:

  • None of this takes away the right of a 16 or 17 year old to Leave Home; see the Leaving Home section of our Legal Wiki.

JFCY Legal Rights materials are in progress.

The Ministry of Child and Youth Services has produced these information materials:

 

Media Release – UN Review Should Urge Canada To Reform Immigration Detention System

MEDIA RELEASE

EMBARGOED UNTIL 6:0o AM EST October 5, 2017

UN Review Should Urge Canada To Reform Immigration Detention System

Joint Submission to UN by HR Groups Says Treatment of Children and Persons with Mental Health Conditions Violates International Obligations

Toronto, October 5, 2017 — A United Nations review of Canada’s human rights record should urge Canada to make concrete commitments to meaningfully address its treatment of vulnerable persons in immigration detention, the International Human Rights Program at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law (IHRP) said today.

The IHRP, in conjunction with international and national human rights organizations — including Amnesty International, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and Justice for Children and Youth — delivered a joint submission to the UN today stating that immigration detainees, particularly children and non-citizens with mental health conditions, continue to suffer significant human rights violations.

“Canada’s renewed efforts to become a global leader as a multicultural safe haven for refugees and migrants should be applauded, but it needs to move quickly to address the serious human rights violations of some of the most vulnerable members of our society,” said Samer Muscati, director of the IHRP. “It’s time that Canada lives up to its human rights reputation by ending the needless detention of children and migrants with mental health conditions when alternatives already exist.”

In the spring of 2018, Canada will under go its third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, in which UN Member States will review past Canadian human rights pledges, and raise new concerns. Through the UPR process, the UN Human Rights Council periodically reviews the human rights progress of each Member State approximately every four years.

The submission criticized Canada for routinely holding non-citizens with mental health conditions in maximum-security provincial jails, and for detaining or “housing” children in detention, or separating them from their detained parents.

Since 2013, more than 800 children have spent time in Canadian immigration detention, including children from Syria and other war-torn regions. According to medical experts, immigration detention causes serious and lasting psychological harm, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and suicidal ideation. The submission said that family separation is not an adequate alternative to child detention because it also causes significant psychological distress, and may expose children to the hardships of the child welfare system.

The submission also criticized the Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA) for routinely detaining migrants with mental health conditions or psychosocial disabilities in maximum-security jails — sometimes for years — despite their vulnerable and non-criminal status. In fact, CBSA policy explicitly states that detainees may be

transferred from medium-security Immigration Holding Centres to maximum-security provincial jails due to their mental health conditions. CBSA’s treatment of non-citizens with mental health conditions is in breach of Canada’s international human rights obligations, because it is discriminatory, it constitutes indefinite and arbitrary detention, it is cruel and inhuman, and it violates the right to health.

In Canada, there is no legislatively prescribed limit to the length of detention, and as such, detainees have no way to ascertain how long they will spend in detention. The submission says that a needlessly punitive culture persists within the immigration detention system, and it is enabled by a series of systemic issues that must be addressed through legislative, regulatory, and policy reforms.

“Canada’s immigration detention system is broken, and it’s harming vulnerable children and adults,” said Hanna Gros, the primary author of the joint submission. “Canada should stand up for the human rights principles that are at the foundation of our values, and fixing our immigration detention system is a necessary step in that direction.”

As a first step, the human rights organizations are calling on Canada to create a legislative presumption against detention beyond 90 days, and to form an independent body/ombudsperson responsible for overseeing and investigating CBSA to whom immigration detainees can complain. The joint submission also urges Canada to immediately implement community-based alternatives to detention whenever possible, including reporting obligations, financial deposits, and guarantors.

The submission is based on three years of research by the IHRP, which resulted in three reports: “We Have No Rights:” Arbitrary imprisonment and cruel treatment of migrants with mental health issues in Canada (2015); “No Life for a Child”: A Roadmap to End Immigration Detention of Children and Family Separation (2016); and Invisible Citizens: Canadian Children in Immigration Detention (2017).

Other partners in the joint submission are the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, and the Refugee Law Office of Legal Aid Ontario. Human Rights Watch also endorsed the submission’s recommendations.

The UN established the UPR process in 2006. Countries under review submit written reports on their human rights situation and respond to the questions and recommendations put forward by other UN Member States at the Human Rights Council. All 193 UN Member States undergo these reviews.

This is the IHRP’s second UPR submission. As part of Canada’s second Universal Periodic Review on April 26, 2013, the IHRP submitted a shadow report highlighting rights violations against women with mental health issues imprisoned in Canadian penitentiaries.

Click here for Full Media Release and Contact information

Click here to View Submissions

Workshop for Students and Lawyers: How to make concepts of Social Justice Visible – workshop at JFCY on June 21st

What do you think of when someone says “social justice”? How does social justice connect to work in the justice system? What might be some ways that we can use to   figure this stuff out? Using drawings, cartoons, comics and other visual and collaborative methods, this workshop will help us think through some of our ideas regarding social justice concepts, and how they underpin our work in the justice system. IMPORTANT: NO DRAWING EXPERIENCE REQUIRED!!!

Noah Kenneally is a childhood researcher, PhD candidate at OISE/University of Toronto, and a contract lecturer in the School of Early Childhood Studies at Ryerson University. His primary area of research is children’s perspectives regarding their experiences, and participative research methods. He’s been using cartoons and comics to explore children’s ideas about society and their lives for the last few years, and recently was a part of the Toronto Comic Arts Festival Library and Educator Day, talking about using comics as a research tool

REGISTRATION DETAILS:

Event will take place at 55 University Avenue.

Register by sending an email to JFCY’s Admin Assistant: caldara@lao.on.ca

Include your name, school or organizational affiliation.  Deadline: Mon Jun 19 at 5pm.

Limited to 20 participants.  You will receive a confirmation email with further details.

JFCY will be closed in the afternoon to mark National Indigenous Day.

 

CCRC’s 2017 Federal Budget Analysis

To Build a “Strong, Fair Canada Built for Change” We Need Strong, Fair Childhoods Built for Change

Canada aspires to be an innovation nation, a focus of the commercial and social investments in Federal Budget 2017. It’s a vision to create better livelihoods and an economy that thrives in a rapidly changing world. To get there, we have to create the conditions in which our children and youth develop, learn, adapt and continue what they are great at – innovation. But we have big gaps to fill with smarter policies, services and investments to boost lagging child well-being outcomes. The Canada Child Benefit is a big step forward. We won’t get there without shifting investment earlier in children’s lives to support healthy development, reducing remedial costs down the road. And we will be swimming hard upstream unless we do more to address broad income and social inequality, a dampening influence on overall well-being.

Budget 2017 takes us a few steps forward. Children will benefit from investments in social infrastructure, environmental protection and gender inequality.  More details about how the money will be used are needed to assess their likely impacts.  Forthcoming national strategies in poverty reduction and for early learning and child care are promising – taking a universal approach in these two policy imperatives achieves great outcomes for children in other countries.  Filling in the potholes to achieve a more comprehensive and coherent framework of policies affecting children would help to ensure these investments achieve their intended impacts and close gaps that leave some children behind.

 

WHAT’S NEW FOR CHILDREN AND YOUTH?

Early Learning and Child Care:  The addition of $7 billion over 10 years, aiming for the universal minimum standard of 1% of GDP, provides a strong start toward a national system of support for early learning and child care.  It is expected to create 40,000 new child care spaces.  The number of spaces available should match the number who need it and evolve based on a universal right to quality child care, rather than an estimate. In addition to the focus on affordability so mothers can return to work, CCRC advocates for a child-centred approach that focuses on quality. Without that, we won’t see the positive outcomes for children that the best performing countries achieve for the investments they are making.

Parental Leave:  The option for a longer period of parental leave will help some families juggle paid employment and child rearing. The proposed changes enable mothers working in risky employment to access leave benefits while extending the period of leave for the first eighteen months of a child’s life. Extended leave can support the critical period for bonding and breastfeeding and allow flexibility to address children’s developmental needs and challenges. However, a reduced rate of 33% rather than 55% remuneration limits the potential benefits. Whether the levels of support are adequate to allow parents, particularly lower-income earners and those in non-standard work, to use that option remains to be seen. CCRC advocates for remuneration to at least the current EI standard for the full duration of leave, bringing Canada closer to the policies in other affluent nations.

Affordable Housing:  Progress on the national housing strategy is reflected in the proposed investments in affordable housing.  It is not clear how much of the $11 billion will be allocated to families with children.  CCRC advocates for a child-sensitive lens on affordable housing measures including access to and the design of social housing; portable housing benefits to enable children to grow up in safe, healthy communities; and a youth focus to reduce homelessness with more pathways to housing and supportive services.

Indigenous Children:   Budget 2017 includes funds for a range of services, from water, housing, and education to restorative justice, indigenous languages, Métis governing capacity, and a center in the PCO to address the larger systemic issues involved in building a new nation-to-nation relationship with indigenous peoples across Canada. More detailed analysis and a strong focus on outcomes will be needed to assess the potential impact for children. In the meantime, the Federal Government should accelerate progress to implement Jordan’s Principle and ensure no First Nations children experience delays or denials in accessing basic services to which other children are entitled.

Youth Skills Training:  The budget includes a number of initiatives to assist young people in learning and making the transition from schools to the workplace, including support for at-risk youth, workplace training and improved Internet access for low-income families.  In addition to a focus on helping young people enter the labour market, more innovative approaches are needed to change the labour market. The Federal Government could incentivize the private sector to create better employment opportunities for youth, to share the profits of the steady growth in GDP. At the same time, CCRC advocates for stronger measures to protect the health, safety, and rights of young people in the workplace, beyond the attention given to unpaid internships for older youth.

Violence Prevention:  The budget provides $100 million for five years and $20 million each year after to fund the emerging gender-based violence strategy.  CCRC has advocated for including a strong focus on implementing Article 19 of the Convention, which states that children have a right to be free from all forms of violence. Canada has high rates of bullying, child maltreatment and child homicide, borne by both girls and boys, as well as specific forms of violence experienced disproportionately due to gender or gender identity. We await the release of the strategy to determine how it will affect children.

Maintenance Payments and the Family Justice System:  Investment to help enforce maintenance payments responds to a recommendation in the last CCRC review of children’s rights in Canada, which showed that a large percentage of children grow up without the intended support after divorce.  Funding for improvements in the family justice system is welcome; hopefully the rights of children will be a strong focus.

 

BUDGET POTHOLES

The Budget’s attention to important gaps in the child and youth policy framework is welcome, to build a society that develops the full potential of every child and bring Canada closer to the great outcomes achieved by other countries who have led the way with proven results. But to take our place among top-performing nations economically and in the well-being of Canadians, we need to ensure these measures are included:

Child Development: No country with a thriving economy and thriving children neglects the early years to the extent Canada has done. While child care and parental benefits are critical thrusts, a more holistic approach to early child development is absolutely crucial to achieve good outcomes. In Federal-Provincial health agreements, a set of minimum standards for early child health and development services to support cognitive and social milestones, child health and breastfeeding should be considered, and a more universal approach to the Community Action Program for Children.

Food Security:  The budget focuses on agri-food investments for marketing Canada’s produce.  It does not include a food security strategy, a commitment made by the Government after the election.   Access to nutritious, affordable food for every child remains an unfulfilled right. Protecting children from advertising of unhealthy foods could be part of an effective food security strategy. Canada remains one of the only industrialized countries without a national school food program, a proven way to support a range of good health and learning outcomes. The Federal Government should lead a cost-shared Universal Healthy School Food Program to serve a daily healthy meal or snack.

Child Rights Impact Assessments and A Children’s Budget:   Budget 2017 takes an important step by including a gender-based analysis for the first time.  Further development will improve future budgets and policy decisions.  Budget 2017 also highlights the need for a more systematic approach for identifying the impact of specific initiatives for children and ensuring maximum benefit from investments.  The CCRC continues to advocate for the use of Child Rights Impact Assessments at both the national and sub-national levels of government to help ensure that the many policies that impact children add up to measurable progress and avoid negative or unintended consequences.

A Commissioner for Children and Youth:  Budget 2017 illustrates the complexity of making investments that have big implications for the context in which children grow up in Canada without a locus in government to help ensure they work well together and are good for children. The avoidable reality is that some children and some essential steps for healthy child development fall through the cracks.  The benefits of having a Children’s advocate that focuses on children and youth – a quarter of Canada’s population – and pulls the pieces together from a child’s perspective would far outweigh the small cost of the office.

Kathy Vandergrift and Lisa Wolff for the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children

March 2017

Reposted with permission: http://rightsofchildren.ca/uncategorized/2017-federal-budget-analysis/